Pubdate: Sat, 09 Aug 2003
Source: Advertiser Gleam, The (AL)
Copyright: 2003 The Advertiser Gleam.


Sheriff's investigators looking into theft cases routinely run across 
crystal meth nowadays.

Drug unit investigators looking into crystal meth routinely find stolen goods.

Thefts and drugs seem to be more closely tied together now than ever 
before. The big sheriff's raid near Nixon Chapel last week is a case in point.

The investigation into Raleigh Wayne (Gomez) Ingram's activities began with 
information about stolen goods. Investigators said they'd heard he was 
dabbling in drugs too, but they didn't expect to find 2 ounces of meth-- 
twice the possession weight to be considered trafficking-- when they raided 
his home.

Drug unit director Rob Savage said the simple fact is that a lot of meth 
addicts have to steal to support their habit. And a lot of meth dealers 
accept stolen goods as payment for their product.

"We're interviewing suspects who tell us they have an 8-ball a day habit," 
Mr. Savage said. "An 8-ball is about 3.5 grams of meth. It sells on the 
street for $175 to $225. Most people can't support that habit with 
legitimate employment."

District attorney Steve Marshall makes a point of that when he gives talks 
on crystal meth.

"Steve tells everyone that addicts aren't just harming themselves," Mr. 
Savage said. "We're all victims in this. If a person is shoplifting to 
support his addiction, the costs of that are passed on to all the other 
shoppers who frequent that store."

There are social costs too, especially where welfare is involved.

"The number of child abuse and neglect cases in this county is up by 
something like 500 percent over the past 4 years," he said. "Those costs 
are passed on to taxpayers."

Those years are when meth cases here have skyrocketed.

Mr. Savage said his officers have grown accustomed to finding stolen 
merchandise during their drug operations.

"When you go in a house and there are 15 weedeaters stacked in a corner, 
but the grass looks like it hasn't been cut in 8 months, you know," he 
said. "We went in a place awhile back that was a good example. There were 
boxes and boxes of collectible pocket knives and 2 or 3 shoeboxes full of 
jewelry there. That just wasn't appropriate for the residence we were in."

Officers sometimes find large items like TVs and VCRs, but not as much as 
you would think.

"It seems to me that burglars look for smaller stuff that they can throw in 
a backpack or book bag and get away with quickly," he said. "They grab 
handguns, fistfuls of jewelry and knives. Knives are a big thing."

It's pretty clear that some burglars are trading stolen goods directly for 

"Four knives might be worth a quarter-gram, which won't even give the user 
a 4 or 5 hour high," Mr. Savage said. "Burglars selling or trading stolen 
merchandise basically get about 10 cents on the dollar for what the goods 
are really worth."

Unlocked sheds are also a popular target for thieves looking for 
merchandise to trade for drugs.

"They go in and grab 6 or 7 power tools and a weedeater," Mr. Savage said.

Although lawmen know there's a correlation between theft and drug use, the 
number of theft and burglary cases being prosecuted in local courts hasn't 
risen as much in the last 4 years as the number of drug cases (see chart).

The number of crime reports (incident-offense reports) being taken by 
sheriff's deputies has gone up by nearly the same percentage as the number 
of burglars who are actually being prosecuted. But incident-offense reports 
encompass much more than just burglary and theft-- assault, harassment, 
forgery, menacing, etc.

One veteran lawman said he had no doubt that people steal to get the money 
to support the meth habit. But he said that isn't all that different from 
what's always gone on.

"People used to steal to get marijuana," he said. "Then they stole to get 
crack cocaine. Crystal meth is just the next thing. It may be something 
entirely different in a few years."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens